By Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)
The 23 students in this Spring Semester’s Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic contributed over 1500 hours of legal research and writing to local state and federal judges. This exceeded by hundreds of hours the assistance provided by clinic students in prior years. The value of this effort, particularly in state courts, comes at a time of tight budgets and limited numbers of full-time law clerks plus expanded litigation demands on judges. All of which makes this amount of law student assistance most welcome.
The judicial placements in this year’s clinic included 8 with judges in the U.S. District Court, 9 with judges in the Massachusetts Superior Court, 2 with judges in the Land Court, 3 with judges in the Boston Municipal Court, and 1 with a judge in the Massachusetts District Court. While students began with court observation, including motions practice and jury trials, their participating judges quickly made research and writing assignments. The range of student work included habeas corpus petitions, motions to suppress evidence in criminal cases, social security disability appeals, class actions motions, zoning appeals, and various motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. Students also observed sentencing and mental health proceedings as well as the Aaron Hernandez double murder trial in the Suffolk Superior Court.
Two features of this year’s clinic were the participation of five LLM students, including Judges from Japan and Korea, and the prison tour of MCI Concord. The LLM students bring important comparative observations into both their judicial placements and our weekly classes. For example, both the Korean and Japanese Judges made presentations in our class on juries about the relatively new approach to trial by jury in their home countries. Our prison visit, already described in this blog by an LLM student from China, provided students with a realistic view of the challenges of incarceration and re-entry.
Student evaluations of their clinic experiences mention different learning goals and learning outcomes. Many identified “Insights into Judicial Decision Making” and “Learning Court Procedures” as key objectives before starting, but cited “Recognizing Good and Bad Advocacy” and “Improving My Writing” as significant learning outcomes at the end. This is welcome evidence of the changing impact on students from working so closely with a judge in this clinic. Student comments make this same observation, “He gave me thoughtful candid feedback and was always receptive to my questions/input.”; “My judge was fantastic. She was very accommodating and keen to ensure that I was having a good experience.”; “I learned a tremendous amount and always felt challenged in an exciting way.”; and “My judge is wonderful, very engaging, and gives interns real work.”